How to Move Project Management Out of IT

Most project management efforts start in the IT department. As such, many managers of IT project offices face the challenge of how to move the project management principles, that work in IT, into the other parts of their organization that could benefit. The following ten strategies will help to make that transition easier, by preparing IT managers to sell the concept of project management and to deliver the benefits that Project Management promises.

1. Make sure you have a project management methodology, not a system development methodology.

In many cases, an IT department uses a system development methodology and believes it is a project management methodology. There are significant differences between the two. The first is that most system development methodologies do not cover the breadth that a project management methodology covers. System development methodologies may focus on the execution phase, but rarely involve much in the initiation and planning phases. As well, many do not cover the closeout phase where critical lessons are learned. The second difference is in the terminology. Many IT staff members are well versed in acronyms, and feel comfortable with them. This is not the case outside of IT, and these terms will tend to be a “turn-off” for other employees.

2. Make sure you understand the business side of your organization.

To forward the cause of project management in the rest of your organization, you need to demonstrate that you understand the needs and issues that they deal with. If you do not have a background in general management, through experience or education, your credibility will suffer, and you will not be able to convince people that you can help them with their problems. This may require you to take some courses to broaden your background, or hire someone with the background you will need.

3. Build on success – have stories to share.

If you are not successful at bringing your IT projects in on time, on budget and meeting the requirements, do not imagine that the rest of the organization wants to use your methods. You must have success stories to share with others that demonstrate the real impact that project management has had on the IT projects. You should be able to show hard cost or productivity figures to further prove the success. The reality is that no one will believe the claims you make, but they will be much more likely to believe the demonstrated success of a project that used the methodology.

4. Be prepared to start small.

As you expand beyond IT, remember that the organization is not going to rush to embrace your ideas just because you say they work. You will want to start with just one department or area that seems best suited for this approach. Build success in that area before you approach other areas. This will take a while, but it is by far the best way to be able to test your approach in each area and adjust as you go along.

5. Start simple.

Just as you want to start small with one area, so too you want to start simply with only a few parts of the methodology and simple tools. If you try to use every part of the project management process with people who have never seen it before, they will be overwhelmed and they will refuse to try it. Similarly with tools, such as software programs, if they are asked to use a complex tool, they will think it is too hard and they will give up on the whole process. Start with a few key parts of the process, such as the project scope and preparing a project plan, then you can expand as people are more comfortable.

6. Meet the organization where they are in pain.

The best place to start your efforts is in an area where the organization is experiencing pain. Perhaps a product launch did not go well recently or an event did not come off as well as expected. One thing that everyone in the organization wants to avoid is pain. With pain fresh in their minds, a department will be more receptive to your ideas if you show them how project management would help to avoid pain the next time. Make sure to emphasize that it is not because the people did not work hard, but rather, because the process needs improvement, and you are here to show them a process that has worked well for you.

7. Approach the business in terms of reference and language suitable to your customer.

When you do meet with your business counterparts, make sure that you are using their language when you speak to them. Most people outside of IT do not understand the IT terms and will feel that the methodology is not for them if you use unfamiliar terms. Even when sharing success stories, you may need to change some of the descriptions into generic terms so that your audience can relate. If you do not explain it in a way they can see the benefit, they will not accept project management.

8. Find a supporter in the business side of the organization.

For your first foray into the rest of the organization, it helps to locate a senior person in a business unit who sees the benefit that project management offers. This person will be your “champion” and will help to guide you through the process of gaining support. They can give you valuable feedback on how you are presenting the concepts and can point you in the direction of the areas in the organization that would most benefit from using project management. They will often also run interference for you in some situations where detractors may be attacking your plan.

9. Look for referrals.

The best compliment you can get is to have someone refer you to another in the organization. They are willing to put their own reputation on the line for your cause. Take these opportunities very seriously, because they represent the best way to grow your influence with others in the organization. Also, seek these opportunities out, since you may find out about an area that could use your help, but a referral is the only way to gain access to the department. Referrals only come when the person is more than simply satisfied with the work of your group. If you are not receiving referrals now, check the quality of what you are producing before you venture into other areas of the organization.

10. Prepare to educate the organization in a way they will understand.

As more people see the benefits of project management, they will want to learn more, so that they can gain even more benefit from the techniques. If you have been using a Project Management Training curriculum that focuses on systems, you will need to change the approach for training non-IT folks. They need to have the methodology explained to them in familiar terms and any cases or examples must be from areas that they can relate to, not from IT. The training course may also need to be broken up into shorter segments, since some areas of the organization, such as production staff, cannot all be away on training at the same time.

If you follow these ten strategies, I believe that your efforts to introduce project management into non-IT areas of your organization will be more successful.

Dave Paradi

David Paradi, senior associate of Business Improvement Architects, is an experienced facilitator and Project Leader. He specializes in the areas of Project Management and Leadership and is a presentations expert. David has a solid understanding of Project Management and Leadership through his experience as a project leader, project team member and facilitator of strategic planning processes. He has led development of strategic directions for organizations, project teams in the launch of new products, the development of next generation administration and marketing systems and the introduction of processes that are more streamlined.